good evening. the president was awakened at
. and told he had just won the
nobel peace prize
. it was a stunner. it came out of nowhere. it is not the kind of thing he had applied for, nor did he know he was nominated. one
staffer said he had to make sure this wasn't
. a writer for "time" magazine calls it the last thing the president needs. it happened so fast and was so unexpected the
had to figure out what to say. it's also one of the last remaining towering honors on earth. we start off our coverage tonight with our chief
in washington. a lot to say tonight, andrea.
reporter: indeed there is, brian. it was the kind of
. wake-up call that surprised everyone, including the
president of the united states
's most ardent admirers did not expect him to become a
so soon after becoming president. you don't have to know norwegian to understand the gasps of surprise in oslo when the prize was awarded to
reporter: the five-member
cited the president's efforts to strengthen
and his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. but to many the real message seemed to be europe likes the fact that america has a new leader and he is not
george w. bush
obama has as president created a new international climate.
reporter: six hours later in the
the president and his chief of staff were still trying to find the right note of humility for the occasion.
i do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of american leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.
reporter: the president said he would accept the prize as a
call to action
but didn't deserve to be in the company of transformative past winners or even a legendary peacemaker like
never won the prize. past recipients include two former sitting presidents, theodore roos welt and
, iconic figures like
, and more controversial choices.
. all chosen for their life's work. not nominated, as
after taking office. on msnbc's "
" the reaction was more shock than awe.
can you ever think of a
nobel peace prize winner
that has won this award for doing less than this president?
reporter: people were surprised from cairo to the president's hometown of chicago.
i think it would have -- it's too soon to award him a
. we could have waited a year or two.
what? i was like, what for?
surprised but okay, yeah, i could see that.
reporter: in fact,
beat out 204 other nominees, a record number. congratulations poured in from past winners.
it's an honor for him, first and foremost, of course, but it's an honor for our country. i think it's extremely well deserved.
reporter: supporters point to the president's policy of diplomatic engagement with iran,
, and cuba.
we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
reporter: and his outreach to the
. but his
diplomacy is stalled, and he is still fighting two wars.
i think the president has commitment, he has priority, but he's facing galactic problems.
reporter: the "new yorker's"
wrote on his blog, "not even a rookie of the year is ready to be elected to the
hall of fame
has announced the president will donate the $1.4 million accompanying this prize to charity. and he will travel to oslo to accept it in december. brian?
starting us off in our newsroom in washington on this stunner of a day. andrea, thanks. which all brings us to